The Azure cloud, technically called the Windows Azure Platform, is Microsoft's cloud platform which they released in February 2010. The Azure cloud is used to build and host applications. These currently have to be hosted in Microsoft's data centers. To allow resellers, such as HP or Dell, to provide Azure cloud hosting and services from their own data centers Microsoft plans to offer a Windows Azure Platform Appliance. The software components of the Windows Azure Platform are mostly closed source.
The Windows Azure Platform is classified as 'Platform as a Service' (PaaS) and is one of Microsoft's cloud computing products, along with their 'Software as a Service' (SaaS) offering, Microsoft Online Services.
The main Windows Azure Platform hosted services are:
- Windows Azure, an operating system providing scalable compute and storage facilities.
- SQL Azure, a version of SQL Server adapted for the Azure cloud.
- Windows Azure AppFabric, various services to support applications in the cloud.
The Windows Azure Platform is an application platform that allows Microsoft data centers to host and run web applications. The platform runs on a cloud optimized operating system called Windows Azure. All the Azure Services and applications run on top of Windows Azure. The Windows Azure Platform provides a set of services for development, management, and hosting of applications off-premises.
The platform has three core components: Compute, Storage, and Fabric:
- Compute, is a computational environment supporting Web Role, Worker Role, and VM Role.
- Storage, provides scalable storage in Blobs, non-relational Tables, and Queues. Relational Database functionality is offered through SQL Azure which is a cloud optimized version of SQL Server.
- Fabric, is a scheduling and networking component for high-speed connections to connect nodes consisting of several servers together.
The Fabric, Compute and Storage resources make up the Windows Azure Platform.
Fabric resources, applications, and services are managed by the Windows Azure Fabric Controller service. This acts as the kernel of the cloud operating system, providing scheduling, resource allocation, device management, and fault tolerance for the nodes in the Fabric. It also manages the application lifecycle, including deployment, health monitoring, upgrades, and de-activation.
The platform provides an API built on REST, HTTP, and XML that allows the developer to interact with the services provided by Windows Azure. Microsoft also provides a class library which encapsulates the interaction with the services. This is integrated into Microsoft Visual Studio, with associated tools, so that Visual Studio can be used as the IDE to develop and publish Azure-hosted applications.
Windows Azure also offers a Content Delivery Network (CDN) service. This enables fast worldwide delivery of static content, such as web page graphics, from Azure Storage to end-users from 24 data centers worldwide. The proximity of the edge server chosen to serve the end-user increases the speed of delivery of the cached content.
The Azure cloud was ranked first among all cloud-platform providers in a cloud speed test conducted by application performance management vendor Compuware. Microsoft now provides free ingress for all the customers of Azure.
Windows Azure services:
- Windows Azure Compute: Web Role, Worker Role, VM Role.
- Windows Azure Storage: Table, Queue, Blob.
- SQL Azure: SQL Azure Data Sync, SQL Azure Reporting.
- Content Delivery Network.
- Azure AppFabric: Access Control, Caching, Service Bus.
- Azure Market Place.
- Azure Virtual Network: Azure Connect, Azure Traffic Manager.
The Windows Azure Platform uses a specialized operating system, called Windows Azure. Windows Azure is a "cloud layer" run on top of a number of Windows servers, which use Windows Server 2008 and a customized version of Hyper-V, known as the Windows Azure Hypervisor to provide virtualization of services.
The Fabric layer organizes a cluster of servers hosted at Microsoft's data centers. The Fabric layer manages the computing and storage resources, and allocates the resources to the applications running on Windows Azure. Scaling and reliability are controlled by the Windows Azure Fabric Controller which stops the services and environment crashing if one of the servers crashes, and manages aspects of the user's application such as memory resources and load balancing.
The platform includes various services such as Live Services, SQL Azure, AppFabric, SharePoint Services, and Dynamics CRM Services which developers can use to build applications to run in the Azure cloud.
The Azure Services Platform can run .NET Framework applications compiled for the CLR, and it supports the ASP.NET application framework and associated deployment methods to deploy the applications into the cloud. SDKs are also available to allow PHP, Java and Ruby developers to interact with AppFabric and the other services.
Windows Azure libraries for .NET, Java, and Node.js are also now available under the Apache 2 open source license and hosted on GitHub. A new Windows Azure SDK for Node.js provides an environment for Node applications. A limited preview of an Apache Hadoop-based service for Windows Azure has enabled Hadoop apps to be deployed.
- Windows Azure new features: .NET Framework 4, OS Versioning, CDN. SQL Azure new features: 50GB databases, Spatial data support, DAC support.
- Platform Enhancements: Virtual Machine Role, Role enhancements, Admin mode, Startup tasks, Full-IIS support, Extra Small Instances.
- Windows Azure Connect: Access to on-premise resource for cross-premise apps. Support for Domain-joining VMs. Direct role-instance connectivity. Use of existing remote administration tools.
- Improved Features: New Windows Azure Platform Management Portal. Multiple users & roles for management. Remote Desktop. PHP Development. Marketplace.
Some Microsoft data centers are known to have servers inside shipping containers - each containing about 2000 servers.
The data center locations are:
- North America North-central US - Chicago, Illinois South-central US - San Antonio, Texas
- Asia East Asia - Hong Kong, China South East Asia - Singapore
- Europe West Europe - Amsterdam, Netherlands North Europe - Dublin, Ireland
In addition there are CDN nodes located in 24 countries.
Microsoft Azure in Ireland
By July 2010 Microsoft had installed 6,000 copies of Windows Azure in Ireland. This was expected to reach 100,000 installations by 2011. Examples of companies using the Azure cloud in Ireland are Aer Lingus and HR Locker. Aer Lingus has an interactive web application to integrate route maps with their reservation and booking process. And HR Locker is a provider of HR solutions to small to medium size companies, they built their application on Windows Azure for improved scalability.
The $500 million facility has been one of the largest recent construction projects in Ireland with a peak workforce of around 2,000 workers. The data center provides approximately 50 jobs in the Dublin area. It went live in 2009 and currently covers about 3 hectares. It has 5 mega watts of critical power available, and may expand to 22 mega watts of critical power.
The Windows Azure Platform offers the SQL Azure database, in addition to the data storage provided by the Storage AppFabric. SQL Azure is built on top of Microsoft SQL Server technologies and offers the relational database features of a SQL Server database instance, such as tables, indexes, views, triggers, stored procedures, referential integrity, and transactions.